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04 OCTOBER 2021
What are you training your leaders for?

by Alan Hosking: Publisher of HR Future, South Africa's human strategy magazine, and a Leadership Renewal Coach for senior executives.

A quick look around the world at political and business leaders will reveal that there are very few leaders who, when it comes to actually leading people, demonstrate competence and inspire hope and confidence. That’s despite the eye watering amount of $366 billion that is claimed to having been spent on leadership development, according to TrainingIndustry.com.

What. Went. Wrong?

Simple. Leadership programmes have just not moved with the times and that flaw is now showing very clearly in the quality (or lack thereof) of people occupying leadership positions today. Many of the leadership issues that have contributed to the failure of leadership development can be traced to three flaws.

Flaw #1: Leaders are trained to lead organisations, not to lead people

Leading an organisation is very different from leading people. Organisations are robust. People are not. An organisation’s feelings don’t get hurt, but people’s feelings do. An organisation doesn’t experience pain and stress. People do.

It therefore requires a lot more expertise to lead people. Most organisational leaders have not been trained to lead people at a personal level. What training they have had has been based on a military model of leadership, which has rapidly become outdated. They don’t want to get involved in people’s lives. They just want results. But, today, you get results by making sure your people feel emotionally and physically safe and supported. That requires engagement with people at a very personal level – hearing about their fears and supporting them through those fears. Again, that’s not what organisational leaders want to do. They want the glory of good returns and don’t want to be irritated by what they consider to be “touchy feely” stuff.

Flaw #2: Leaders are trained for skills and not helped to develop qualities

In the past, leaders were appointed on the basis of their technical skills. If you were a chartered accountant, you were considered able to manage a company’s finances. You would therefore be considered for a CEO or Financial Director position even though you might have had very little competence in managing people.

While technical skills are still very important and necessary, they’re just no longer enough. In addition to skills, leaders now also have to possess and demonstrate certain qualities. And qualities are not acquired through once-off training sessions. They’re acquired through development over a much longer period of time with success not necessarily guaranteed.

While skills can be measured and quantified, it’s not so easy to quantify qualities. This, then, presents a problem to the accountant who battles with unquantifiable matters. Take empathy as an example. You can’t quantify empathy as a competence in the same way you can determine whether a person is able to apply a certain skill. Add to that the perception – in those with a military mindset – of certain qualities as being an indication of weakness and you have a recipe for old school leaders to continue with their old model of leadership.

Flaw #3: Leaders are being trained for what’s already happened, not for what’s still to come

Many companies battle to read or anticipate evolving trends and can’t imagine what the future holds. They therefore allow their leaders to continue being trained to manage the past rather than manage the future.

Remember the “Four Functions of Management Process” – Planning, Organising, Leading and Controlling? If your leaders are still running your company on the basis of these four functions, you’re headed for trouble. To just consider the last of these, if you’re still operating with a “control” mindset, you’ll soon have very few engaged and productive workers.

Learning, by its nature, has understandably always had its eye on the past. Books that we’ve learned from were written in the past. That approach is however no longer helpful. It’s only by breaking out and exploring the unknown that leaders can help prepare their people for what’s still to come. And learning those exploratory skills is a whole new ball game!

As HR Executives encourage their L&D Professionals to summon the courage to explore and present content that prepares leaders for the future, they will be doing their companies a big service.

I therefore want to encourage HR Executives to stop having their leaders trained for what’s already happened and work hard at nurturing a culture of exploration and innovation in their companies to give their leaders the freedom and competence to move into the future with confidence!

HR Future
HR Future is South Africa's only independent, most forward thinking human resource magazine with the richest content wealth of HR related issues on the continent of Africa to help executives recruit, manage, train, reward and retain the best talent. Visit our InfoCentre or website.

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